Atlanta-native Alexandra Jackson has released her debut album, “Alexandra Jackson: Legacy & Alchemy” as a two-disc set. The recording is beautifully appointed with a color scheme and feel that makes potential audiences want to put on a disc. Her influences include jazz, blues, soul, bossa nova and samba. The proof of those genres as inspiration shows up in the passionate, but smooth approach Jackson brings to the work presented. “Legacy & Alchemy” is impressive not just because it is a debut album, but because of the style turns that it takes in ways that makes it difficult to believe that this is a first album.
About Alexandra Jackson
Jackson grew up in a home filled with music. In addition to being influenced by recorded music, Jackson became a classically trained pianist while she was still a child. As an adult, Jackson works as a singer and songwriter. Music performance is in Jackson’s blood, but no one would guess from her parents’ professions and legacy. Jackson’s father was Maynard Holbrook Jackson Jr., Atlanta’s first black mayor. Her mother is NPR personality and business person, Valerie Richardson Jackson. But it is Jackson’s grand aunt, coloratura soprano Mattiwilda Dobbs, who is distinguished as one of the nation’s first African American opera singers to enjoy an international career.
Jackson began to come into her own as a singer after she performed with Wynton Marsalis in the Essential Ellington high school jazz national competition. The experience helped Jackson to figure out that she wanted to study jazz in college. At the University of Miami, Jackson earned a degree in Jazz Studies and afterward, began to perform in jazz festivals in the US and Europe. She worked in Los Angeles as a professional musician before returning home to Atlanta. “Legacy & Alchemy” was released May 2018.
The sound of “Legacy & Alchemy” by Alexandra Jackson
While the release is comprised of two discs, most of the tracks appear on disc one. The project itself is three years in the making, and completed with the work of 150 musicians. The point of the work is to honor the legacy of Brazilian jazz. Jackson does that with the songs she presents and the languages she sings in.
With a total of 17 songs, it is almost impossible to choose the “best” of the album. It is only possible to pick songs that are representative of the album. The soundscape throughout is pleasing. The legacy of Brazilian jazz is alive on each track. Particularly nice is Jackson’s treatment of “The Girl From Ipanema” which is still given its original title, despite the singer changing the title lyric to “the boy from Ipanema.” That simple change, though, does make it sound as if Jackson is truly owning the song.
“Girl From Ipanema” by Alexandra Jackson
Lush vocal melodies open the song. The song feels more like pop jazz, and Jackson’s phrasing is such that she makes singing the song sound easy. The instrumentation is horn and bass rich. After a brief horn showcase, Jackson switches to Portuguese, and the sound becomes even more luxurious. Jackson’s voice is neither too high nor too low for the project. Her vocals are flexible, and the way the song finishes with flourishes of other sounds as Jackson slips back into English to vamp until the end.
“Turns Your Heart Around” by Alexandra Jackson
The soundscape is heavy with rhythm created by synthesizer, drums and percussion. Percussion plays heavily beneath the romantic lyrics. Jackson is joined by what might be a vocal loop of herself, so the layering is a nice effect and the already engaging song becomes even more so. There is a built-in sway to the song that is created in the way Jackson approaches the lyrics. The phrasing doesn’t chop lines off too quickly, and so the lush feel is created in the vocal line as well.
The album, in addition to showcasing Jackson’s voice, also serves to celebrate the 60th anniversary of bossa nova (and contains the work of one of the founders of the genre, the now-late Oscar Castro-Neves) and the 100th anniversary of samba in 2017.
The ambitious project that has been brought to life to celebrate music forms that contemporary audiences do not always hear enough of. It embodies the quote from William Carlos Williams that influenced Castro-Neves: “All that remains of communities and civilizations…All that remains of their worth and dignity…Exists in the art they leave.”